With a world as large and rich as the world of Westeros, figuring just how to build stories in this complex framework of characters, places, and cultures can be a bit daunting. There are all sorts of tales you can tell: For instance, you might construct a brutish and violent saga of wildlings battling the horrors of the far-flung north. You might run a convoluted intrigue where each player takes the role of a noble house and conspires against fellow players to advance the house's fortunes, or perhaps a mercenary campaign with the players taking the parts of cast-offs, exiles, and soldiers fighting for gold in the interminable wars of the Free Cities. The possibilities are pretty much open-ended.
When we sat down to design this game, Chris Pramas put forward the idea the players would all play parts of a single noble house. While I clamored for a Machiavellian-style game (I love drinking the tears of defeated rivals after all; Diplomacy tainted me I suppose), I couldn't deny the merits of this approach: the players would have a ready-made reason to work together, they'd have a "base of operations," and they'd have something to fight for. It didn't take too much convincing and we moved ahead. Here's a heaping spoonful of the noble house rules from A Song of Ice and Fire Roleplaying:
House and Lands
Family, blood, and history are of paramount importance to the people of Westeros. A person's family often says as much or more than do the merits of the individual, shrouding the person in the deeds, actions, and legends of a family's past. A person born to a noble family with a history of honor, fairness, and courage often inherits those same attributes, at least in the eyes of those they meet. Similarly, an individual born to a house noted for being corrupt, brutal, and bloodthirsty bears these stains on their person even if actually kind, innocent, and peaceful. In many cases, the heritage of one's family is so strong even those who have none of the inclinations attributed to their house develop them anyway, in response to expectations, necessity, or some other circumstance.
The element binding player characters together is the shared loyalty to a common family, be they blood relations to that family, wards, or retainers who swear their swords to the defense of a noble bloodline. This common purpose is what unites the often fractious and divisive interactions between those of powerful birth and gives the players a strong foundation from which they can explore the Seven Kingdoms and play the game of thrones.
The group's noble house, though, is more than just a cement to bind the characters together; it is a means of grounding them in the setting, helping players to realize their characters are as much a part of the Seven Kingdoms as the Starks, Boltons, Freys, Liddles, and everyone in between. The noble house the players control gives them a thread in the grand tapestry of blood and relation, making their characters feel as though they have a place in the world—and the ability to change it.
Ultimately, the noble house is, in many ways, another character, a sort of "meta-character" controlled by all the players. It has a history, a place, and a function. It has quantifiable attributes reflecting its strengths and weakness, and can grow and thrive or wither and die. But for as much as the house is integral to the characters, it also stands apart, functioning in the background as they carve out their places in history. The house has lived long before the characters, and, unless disaster strikes, it will live long after they are all dust and legend.
Degrees of Focus
The rules are designed to help shape the attitudes and objectives of the player characters. While it's possible to play in a campaign where the focus on the noble house is much greater, the rules are intentionally basic and serve to enhance game play rather than define it.
Thus, the extent to which a house influences the game depends entirely on the players' and the Narrator's tastes. Some games may dispense with the noble house entirely, focusing on the deeds and actions of the characters, and if the house exists at all, it does so merely as a background element. Other games may take a top-down approach, where the noble house is everything, and the individual characters are unimportant in comparison. In such games, each player might each control their own noble house and have a stable of characters to facilitate the interests of their house and its survival, and when game play focuses on characters, it does so using only those pertinent to the greater story. Most games, though, take a middle-ground approach, where the players interact with the setting with just one character, and their house, while important, is not as vital as the development of the individual characters and the unfolding of their stories.
The House in Action
A created noble house is not frozen in time; rather, the process of house creation is a moment in its life, defining it as it stands at the beginning of your campaign. As you undertake adventures, navigate the perils of intrigue, fight battles, wage wars, and more, your house will blossom and grow or wither and die. Your actions and choices determine the fate of your house. If you exploit its resources, wringing your holdings for every resource to increase your Wealth or Power, your lands suffer and eventually die. On the other hand, if you have care and cultivate your holdings, you can grow them through alliances, battles you win, and the acclaim your family achieves.
However, your house is a vehicle to creating adventures, a place to call home, and the inspiration driving you to reach for greatness, but it should not define the play experience, for SIFRP is a game about characters and not governance and shrewd accounting of one's resources. Thus, most of the house rules are necessary abstractions designed to reflect change and to create consequences and rewards for your actions.
Months and Actions
Time is measured for the purposes of using your house in months. Each month is about four weeks long, and during that time, your house has one House Fortune roll and one House Action. House Fortunes are briefly described below, while House Actions are covered in A Song of Ice and Fire Roleplaying.
A House Fortune is an event affecting your lands, either improving or diminishing one or more resources, revealing a complication or disaster, or awarding a greater turn of events or a boon. A house must roll for a House Fortune at least one month of every three, but no more than one House Fortune roll can take place for each month. You must decide at the start of each month. If you choose not to roll for a House Fortune, you may instead increase any resource by 1 point. Otherwise, the steward or acting steward must roll a Status test (bonus dice from Stewardship apply, plus modifiers from holdings) and compare the result to the House Fortunes Table. The table describes the nature of the fortune. The Narrator determines the specific outcomes of these fortunes, which manifest themselves sometime during the four weeks of the month.
Example: House Orlych of Rimehall
Liege Lord: Lord Karstark of Karhold
Rimehall (Hall, 20)
Vigilant Spire (Tower, 10)
Forested Coastline with Hamlet (19)
Woodland with Ruin (9)
House Fortunes –5
House Fortunes +0
Household Guard (Trained Garrison; 5 Power); Easy (3) Discipline at home or Challenging (9) away; Awareness 3, Endurance 3, Fighting 3
Smallfolk Foot (Green Peasant Levies; 1 Power; Population –2); Formidable (12) Discipline; Awareness 3
Fleet (Green Warship; 11 Power); Formidable (12) Discipline; Awareness 3
Godswood (5, 2d6–6 House Fortunes)
Maester (10, +3 House Fortunes)
Total House Fortune Modifier 2d6–8
Family and Retainers
NC Lord Brandon Orlych, Lord of Rimehall, a middle-aged man of 50 years
NC Lady Mercena, Lady of Rimehall, formerly of a lesser branch of House Karstark, a middle-aged woman of 44 years.
PC Ser Gerald Orlych, heir to Rimehall, a young man of 19 years.
PC Lady Rene Orlych, daughter of Rimehall, a young woman of 14 years.
PC Ser Byron Rivers, hedge knight, bastard son of minor house in the Riverlands, an adult of 28 years.
PC Mikael, master-of-the-hunt, retainer of Rimehall, a middle-aged man of 32 years.
NC Maester Tyren, formerly of a lesser branch of House Frey in the Riverlands.
NC Ser Deved Joren, household knight and master-of-arms, a middle-aged man of 42 years.